You know how all us marketing people keep harping on mobile? How we all keep saying “you gotta make your site mobile friendly! Blah blah blah…” Well, that was all crying wolf. It’s always been a good idea to make your site mobile friendly. But compared to what’s happening on April 21st, everything before this was just “shoulds”. Before now you just really should have made your site mobile friendly.
Now you have to make your site mobile friendly. If you want any mobile traffic, that is. Being that about half of all traffic is mobile, I’m guessing you do. Why the change? Because Google is changing its algorithm. As of April 21st , sites that are not mobile friendly will be penalized in the search results.
Before you panic, let’s break this down. There are three big issues here:
- What does Google define as mobile friendly?
- How much of a penalty are we talking about?
- What can you realistically do between now and April 21st?
First issue: What does Google define as mobile friendly?
There’s good news on this one. Google has given us a ton of information about what they consider a mobile friendly site to be. They even have this nifty tool where you can just paste in your website’s URL. You’ll get a mobile-friendly score and a list of suggested things to fix, and details on how to fix them. It’s cool.
Here’s the tool. Here’s what the tool looks like:
Here’s what the results looked like when I put in the URL of one of my sites:
So far so good. Google thinks this site is mobile friendly. But I can take this a step further and use Google Webmaster Tools to see what percentage of the pages on this site are mobile friendly.
Phew again. Webmaster tools also gives this site the all clear for mobile users.
But what if this hadn’t passed? Then I would have gotten back a list of suggested things to fix, and links to pages that would explain more about how to fix them. If you want resources on mobile-friendliness, you’re actually spoiled for choice. There’s an entire library at Google’s Mobile Friendly Guide.
There is one other way to tell if your pages are mobile friendly. Just do a search for your site from a mobile device. You’ll see gray text that says “mobile friendly” right in front of the listings meta description. If you don’t see that gray text (especially if you can find other listings that do show the gray text), then you’ve got trouble.
Second issue: How much of a penalty are we talking about?
There is bad news on this. Well, actually it could be good if your site is mobile friendly. But if it’s not mobile friendly, this update could be really bad news. Zineb Ait Bahajji, from Google’s Webmaster Trends team, reportedly said this mobile update will have a larger effect on search results than either Panda or Penguin.
If you’ve been around the Internet awhile, you’ll have watched one of those algorithm updates roll out. You’ll probably remember how much wailing and gnashing of teeth there was over those updates. Want one final testament to how big this update is? Its nickname is “mobilegeddon”.
Now, while that does sound dire, keep in mind that Google has also officially said that the mobile-friendly algorithm will only affect mobile search results. In other words, you won’t see any difference in traffic from desktops. Where you’ll see the carnage (or the improvements!) is when you look at how much mobile device based traffic you’re getting.
Just in case you were wondering, Google estimates about half of all searches are done online. comScore estimates it to be 60%. Another factor that could have this update either help you or hurt you more is what kind of business you’re in. If you’re a local business, mobile searches are probably more important to you than if you were, say, a niche Internet retailer.
That’s not to say any class of business doesn’t stand to lose some traffic from this update, but local businesses have been shown to be particularly dependent on mobile searches. Just to give you one factoid linking mobile users to local businesses, Google’s “Our Mobile Planet” minisite reports that “83% of US smartphone owners use their smartphones in-store”.
Third issue: What can you realistically do between now and April 21st?
Unfortunately, time is mighty short to get ready for this update. As Neil Patel points out in his recent post about the mobile update, you don’t just have to get your site ready by April 21st. You have to get your site ready AND indexed by April 21st. That means it actually needs to be mobile friendly by, say, a week prior or even more.
Seven days before April 21st is April 14th. Today is April 2nd. That gives you twelve days before April 14th.
Plus or minus a few days. That’s because Search Engine Land recently reported the algorithm will update roll out over the course of the week following April 21st. Now, hopefully all you have to do to get ready is to finish reading this article, then head over to the mobile friendly tool. You’ll put in your website URL. You’ll be told all is well. Phew!
However, you also need to know this mobile update (and it’s penalties, or it’s blessings) are calculated on a page by page basis, not at the site level. This is similar to how page rank was calculated, though we don’t use page rank much anymore.
Even with that caveat, you’ve already got the tools you need to get ready. Use the mobile friendly tool and your Webmaster account. Follow their instructions. Do the best you can in the time you’re got. You can also borrow some tips for mobile landing pages that Kerry Butters wrote up recently.
This mobile update is a yes or no judgment
You also need to be aware that this particular update has no shades of gray. Your site either is or is not mobile friendly. This means if the mobile friendly tool is happy with your site and your webmaster mobile usability scores are good, you’re pretty much in the clear… at least for that week. But if your site falls short, you’ll have to make fixes quickly. If Google thinks your site is even 10% short of a “yes”, you’ll get a “no” rating.
What about separate mobile sites?
Many small businesses and small operations have separate mobile sites. This is not what Google recommends, or what some SEO experts recommend, but other experts say these kind of sites are acceptable. And there are indeed some benefits to separate mobile sites. Here’s a pros and cons list to having a separate mobile site, or just converting your main site to a responsive design.
Fast sites are essential for mobile success
Site speed can have a massive impact on all sorts of things – conversion rates and search engine traffic among them. You’ll get more visitors with a faster site because Google knows how much visitors like fast sites, and so Google favors them, too. And the importance of site speed gets even more pronounced when it comes to mobile sites.
Fortunately, if you want to speed up your site, Google has a tool for that too. It’s in your Webmaster account, or you can access it from here. This tool performs very much like the mobile friendly tool does. You just enter a URL, and then you’ll get a score and fairly detailed instructions on how to make it faster. There’s even a Chrome browser plugin, if you’d like to check site and page speed all the time.
As you can see below, while my test site did fine with the mobile friendly tool, it clearly needs work on speed. Also note that Google has split the report you get. There’s a mobile version and a desktop version.
If you’re still anxious about this update, consider watching the video below. It’s a full hour-long Q&A session with two of the team members heading up mobilegeddon. They start with a simple explanation of what the update is and how it will affect rankings. Then they answer the most common questions. After that, they take questions from the audience on the hangout with them. By the time you’re done watching this, you’ll be an expert about this mobile update.
If you like that video, check Google’s YouTube channel. That team recorded hours of Q&A sessions. Unlike other algorithm updates, at least this time we’ve got a ton of information on how it works and how to prepare for it. Some of you should expect very good things from this update.
Share with us in the comments below if your website is ready! Maybe you have some thoughts or questions? Let us know. And if you’re looking for a 100% responsive solution, check out GetResponse’s landing page templates.